Mayday! Mayday! Mayday! Mixed martial arts (MMA) trouble is brewin' at Bantamweight.
In a refreshing change of pace, Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) 135-pound interim champion Renan Barao has elected to defend his crown rather than wait for divisional incumbent, Dominick Cruz, to return from injury. Looking to make him regret this decision is American knockout artist Michael McDonald, who is coming off an impressive starching of former World Extreme Cagefighting (WEC) standout, Miguel Torres.
"Barao vs. McDonald" is the championship centerpiece of UFC on Fuel TV 7, which takes place this Saturday afternoon (Feb. 16, 2013) from Wembley Arena in London, England.
Two of the Featherweight division's best fighters, Dustin Poirier and Cub Swanson, will also be featured on the international main card, as well as rising stars Gunnar Nelson and Jimi Manuwa. And let's not fail to mention the great fight between Ryan Jimmo and James Te Huna.
Before all that, however, we've got half-dozen UFC on Fuel TV 7 "Prelims" under card bouts to tide us over, the first three of which we breakdown below:
185 lbs.: Stanislav Nedkov vs. Tom Watson
With his submission loss to Thiago Silva overturned thanks to a failed drug test, Stanislav Nedkov (12-0) enters the UFC Middleweight division officially unbeaten. The Bulgarian wrestling specialist had previously knocked out Luiz Cane in front of the latter’s countrymen in Aug. 2011, only for injury to keep him out of action for more than one year.
A former BAMMA champion with stoppage wins over the likes of John Maguire and Murilo Rua, Tom Watson (15-5) was unable to overcome the powerful grappling of The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) veteran Brad Tavares, losing a close decision to the Hawaiian at UFC on Fuel TV 5.
The Jackson-Winkeljohn product, who had won 11 of his previous 12, will have three inches of height on Nedkov despite the latter dropping from 205 pounds.
My distaste for picking guys making a weight cut for the first time is well documented, but the fight stylistically favors Nedkov enough to where I’m fairly confident. Watson is solid on the feet and isn’t exactly incompetent on the ground, but he’s still got a case of British wrestling that is just waiting for someone like Nedkov to exploit.
Watson’s best weapons, his leg kicks, open him up to Nedkov’s takedowns. Further, while Nedkov slowed down late against Silva and the 20-pound cut won’t be doing his cardio any favors, I highly doubt "Kong" puts up the sort of grappling resistance that Silva did.
The crowd won’t like it and the viewers at home probably won’t, either, but Nedkov is going to grind Watson into the floor whether that big right hand of his connects or not.
Prediction: Nedkov by unanimous decision
135 lbs.: Vaughan Lee vs. Motonobu Tezuka
Vaughan Lee (12-8-1), who owns the record for most submissions during TUF tryouts, was unable to capitalize on the momentum from his stunning tapout of "KID" Norifumi Yamamoto, succumbing to T.J. Dillashaw’s grappling prowess in less than three minutes at UFC on Fuel TV 4.
Now 1-2 in the UFC with a close decision loss to Chris Cariaso in his promotional debut, the 5’5" Lee could very well need an impressive win over Motonobu Tezuka (19-5-4) to stay employed.
Tezuka, a last-second replacement for Kyung Ho Kang in his UFC debut, found himself unable to bring his high-octane top game to bear against Alex Caceres, who battered him on the feet and shut down his takedowns for a decision win. The Pancrase star had previously gone 13-2-1 in 16 fights, beating Shunichi Shijima while falling to current King of Pancrase Shintaro Ishiwatari.
Tezuka is five years younger and two inches taller than Lee.
As giddy as a Tezuka upset would make me, I consider myself enough of a realist to accept the inevitable. Lee is by far the superior of the two on the feet and, until he was stupid enough to throw a high kick, was doing a solid job of staying on his feet against Dillashaw. Further, Tezuka’s hyperactive top game usually involves him finding himself in hairy spots during transitions, which he can’t afford against someone with Lee’s grappling chops.
Tezuka is going to pursue the takedown with a vengeance and isn’t going to be disheartened by one or two dozen failures, but Lee’s striking prowess and takedown defense should let him control the action standing and either control or scramble away from Tezuka should he find himself on his back en route to a decision win for the Englishman.
Prediction: Lee by unanimous decision
125 lbs.: Ulysses Gomez vs. Phil Harris
A nearly five-year veteran of the sport who has faced lighter-weight stars Rambaa Somdet and Darrell Montague, Ulysses Gomez (9-3) had the misfortune of welcoming John Moraga to the UFC in August and was put to sleep by a vicious onslaught against the fence in the first round.
Owner of seven wins by submission, Gomez is the former Tachi Palace Fights Flyweight champ, eventually losing the title to Montague. He has been stopped just once in 12 fights.
England’s top flyweight, Phil Harris (20-10) entered the Octagon as a late replacement for Louis Gaudinot against submission specialist Darren Uyenoyama at UFC on FX 5. While he managed to take "B.C.’s" back in the early going, the latter planted Harris on his back in the second and worked his way to an rear naked choke finish, snapping the Brit’s five-fight win streak.
"Billy" has had only five of his fights have gone the distance.
This is one of those nice fights where both guys excel in only one area, but one excels slightly more. Gomez may have about one-third as many fights as Harris, but he’s been in there with far better fighters and demonstrated a superior ground game, which is Harris’ area of expertise.
"Useless" doesn’t have great wrestling or striking and will probably be on the wrong end of what standing exchanges they have; luckily, he’s just proficient enough to drag Harris to the ground, where an entertaining grappling bout will end with Gomez’s forearms having a heated disagreement with Harris’ carotid arteries.
Prediction: Gomez by second-round submission
We've got three more "Prelims" to breakdown tomorrow, so make sure to stop by ... I get terribly lonely.
See you then, Maniacs.
Remember, too, that MMAmania.com will provide LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire card on fight day (Sat., Feb. 16, 2013), starting with the Facebook "Prelims," which are scheduled to begin at 12 p.m. ET, as well as the main card, which is slated to air at 3 p.m. ET on FUEL TV.